BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – After winning the NFC North with a 12-4 record in 2018, the Bears reported to training camp Thursday at Olivet Nazarene University driven and determined to build on last season's success.
"We hold ourselves to a higher standard now," said running back Tarik Cohen. "The older guys that have been here and watched us go from last place to winning the division, we know what it takes to have that success and to have that work pay off in the regular season coming out of camp."
After finishing in last place each of the previous four years with records of 5-11, 6-10, 3-13 and 5-11, the Bears captured their first division title since 2010.
Led by first-year coach Matt Nagy, they won nine of their final 10 games for the first time since 1985 and went 5-1 against NFC North foes after compiling a 4-20 record versus division opponents the previous four seasons.
Nagy joined with general manager Ryan Pace to help establish a winning culture that remains palpable throughout newly-expanded Halas Hall.
"What we have in this team is very sacred," said quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. "We created this culture that we believe in ourselves. We're going to play hard, we're going to play together, we're going to do this together. We're just going to work hard every single day and see what happens."
With the Bears returning virtually all of their key players from last year's division-championship team, expectations are extremely high from media and fans heading into the 2019 season.
"Nobody expected us to do what we did last year and now it's kind of [flipped] where there's all these expectations," Trubisky said. "So we have to do a good job of staying focused, blocking that out and just doing exactly what we did last year that helped us win those games—and on top of that do even more so we can accomplish more than we did last year."
There are many reasons to believe that the Bears are on the cusp of something special. They boast an explosive offense with an array of playmakers as well as a dominant defense that led the NFL in several key statistical categories last year.
Trubisky believes that the key to the Bears taking the next step in 2019 is concentrating on little things; everything from getting in and out of the huddle quickly—which will create more time at the line of scrimmage to study the defense—to ensuring that players warm up properly for practice, get in recovery and eat healthy.
"Little things like that, I think they go a long way," Trubisky said. "I think the really great teams are good at the little things, and that's what we're trying to focus on."
The third-year quarterback, who was named to his first Pro Bowl last season, is convinced that the Bears possess the talent and character to win a championship.
"We only bring in specific people and players that fit the culture of what we're trying to do here in Chicago," Trubisky said. "We've got a really strong core, a lot of guys coming back, a lot of guys who had opportunities to go somewhere else but wanted to be here, which means a lot to us. It's a really tight brotherhood of family. I think we know what we've got in this locker room and it's up to us to hold each other accountable and push each other every day and make sure that we accomplish our goals and don't settle for anything less."
The Bears understand that making a Super Bowl run is an incredibly long and challenging journey.
"We're not going to wake up one day and be in the playoffs," said receiver Allen Robinson II. "We've got to take that each and every week how we did it last year, make sure we have the same goals: win our division, get back to the playoffs and then go from there on. But that starts each and every week and we've got to take it one-by-one."
The 2019 Bears have already embarked on their quest to win a championship.
"Ultimately it starts with the offseason, starts with training camp, with the camaraderie, the focus, the determination, the will to win," said outside linebacker Khalil Mack. "That's some of the things you learn throughout the process. Ultimately, [it's] one game at a time, one week at a time. It's going to be a long season, but we want to make the most of it."
Mack saw that determination and will to win in last year's Bears squad, which was eliminated from the playoffs by the Eagles in the wild-card round.
"You could see it," Mack said. "But that's in the past. We can't really measure off of last year's success. It's a new year, new focus, new team. Ultimately, we're hungrier than we were last year. I'm speaking for myself as well. I'm way hungrier than I was last year. It definitely wasn't good enough. I'm just looking forward to this year and getting better."
Veteran players report to Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais Thursday for the start of the 2019 Chicago Bears training camp.